Ahead of the second round of the IMSA championship at Sebring, we asked five-times Le Mans 24 Hour winner Oliver Gavin to reflect on the rivalries that have characterised his career. Battles with Aston Martin at La Sarthe in the mid 2000s are remembered fondly, but whilst his ferocious battle to the finish at Daytona with Antonio Garcia will live long in the memory, it was another Corvette Racing team-mate that Gavin plumped for as his greatest racing rivalry.
Aston Martin and Prodrive always had a really good and thorough approach to everything they did in the GT1 days. They had a very good car, some fantastic drivers – guys like Tomas Enge, Darren Turner and Peter Kox were always very quick – and they really got the most out of the relationship they had with Michelin at that time.
It was a great rivalry for a good couple of years, some of the battles we had at Le Mans were exceptional. There was a great respect between the mechanics and the engineers, the two teams would shake hands before the race, go at it for 24 hours and then shake hands again after and congratulate whoever had won. It’s a period that a lot of people at Corvette Racing look back at with rose-tinted spectacles, because whilst it was particularly tough, when you win those sorts of races against such high-class opposition it’s even more satisfying.
There are a few drivers that spring to mind, like Jorg Bergmeister in the Porsche, Jaime Melo in the Ferrari and Gianmaria Bruni as well. Of course, I’ve just had a fantastic race with my team-mate Antonio Garcia at Daytona, but my most enduring rivalry has been against Jan Magnussen.
Jan is a supremely talented driver who has been fast in nearly every single vehicle he’s ever driven. You know you’re doing pretty well when you can manage to beat someone like that. Jan and I were against each other in our early career in Formula Ford, then he went off and we got back together racing against one another in International Touring Cars in ’96. He then went off and did his F1 stuff and we didn’t start racing against one another again until 2002-2003, when he was in the Prodrive Ferrari and I was with Corvette. Then we were team-mates at Corvette between 2004 and 2006 and after that, he was against me again in the sister car.
I remember fondly from 2007 racing the GT1 car, particularly at Sebring, having these massive battles going back and forward, both of us right on the ragged edge with nothing between us. It was always really tough, aggressive racing. Of all the drivers I’ve been around for all this time, Jan’s the one I’ve had some really cracking battles with and there’s a lot of mutual respect between the two of us, which partly comes down to us driving in the same team for 12 years or so.
I would be interested to go back and see the head-to-head and see how we’ve come out against each other, I’m sure there’s nothing in it really.